I think we all know with tested certainty that two-up riding is not going to be much fun if your passenger is sore and grumpy. We don't need much for a fine and pleasant putt-a bike that goes and usually stops, a scenic road, and a sunny sky pretty much covers it. But even a perfect day can turn terrible if proper and thoughtful care has not been taken to ensure the comfort of your trusting companion. Beware the furious wrath of a scorned passenger in pain.
There is an old saying usually found painted or embroidered in big red letters that hangs prominently in many a kitchen: "If momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." Scarier words have never been written, and if you ever doubt the raw power of this little maxim, then take momma for a long ride on some itty-bitty passenger pad and see what happens.
In the last installment of our "Psychology of the Ride" series (April 2010), we extolled the sensual and therapeutic virtues of biking as a couple, whether that was two-up or side-by-side. The bonds created by sharing the thrill, fun, and danger of the road can mend sputtering relationships, bring couples closer, and even create greater intimacy.
But it doesn't stop there. In our quest to find mental moto peace and wellness, we ride deeper into the motoring mind. Now that you've taken this path, biker lifestyle choices will follow. These will inevitably lead around to the bike itself and how it's equipped, including the perilous options offered to seating for two.
Of course, most of us ride dressers, which come pretty cozy and comfortable for both rider and passenger. There's not much to distract from the joy of the open road there-unless you have a second ride, a chopper or bobber perhaps, something tough, hard, and very phallic; something that shouts, "I prefer to be by myself!" Nothing in motorcycling seems more ironic than a head-turning pick-up machine purposely built to keep you alone. That's just sad.
We ride baggers because we enjoy company, and all the important stuff company needs to carry. But the bane of many a content couple has been the almost irresistible, sinister urge to fiddle. We cannot quantify the self-destructive effects of the fiddle factor, or how many once-happy bikers have been led to misery and ruination through an obsessive need to change stuff. One thing is sure; it has brought a world of woe down upon many a good-intentioned rider who just wanted to give their bike a bit more shine and sex appeal.
Pity the innocent fool who thinks no bad can come from customizing his machine. It is, after all, his or her own damn bike, right? This is your first mistake. It doesn't matter who paid for the bike, or who lovingly cleans, polishes, waxes, and maintains it. The bike is a joint venture, whether you know it or not. You'll be happier if you know it.
The old-school biker creed, "It's only the passenger," has little place in modern motorcycling. I can soundly base this on testimony from three marriages and 30 years of biking with passengers ranging from willful psycho-divas to shut-up-and-lets-freakin'-ride fanatics, give or take a Zoloft or two.
The gentleman, or gentlewoman, biker will consider his or her significant passenger from the showroom through the many miles ahead, that is, if he or she wants to live and be happy. Some partners will claim they don't care, that the bike and everything about it is their domain and they're just glad to go along for the ride. Don't you believe it. They're just saving up the grief for somewhere down the road, in the middle of nowhere, where nobody can hear you scream.
My advice to you is to listen to me. I was there, man. I know the bloody hell a loving spouse can rain down upon you. I have a custom Softail-a nice, hotrod ride with detachable saddlebags and a cool taildragger rear fender, quite seatless. Cleverly tucked into a saddlebag at all times was a suction-cup-style rear pad, which I figured would let me keep that manly solo-ride thing going on, while instantly providing an adequate cushion for the wife, bless her crabby black heart. The bike was built to be a hard-charging barhopper-all muscle and not much else, so comfort wasn't a big part of the painstakingly prepared design plan. I hear she's got a new husband now, with a big, fat seat, and maybe arm handles and a vibrating butt massager, too.
One way to avoid the bitter sting of the pussywhip is to think with the head that holds up your helmet. Motorcycling is not supposed to be about a clash of male/female egos or caveman chest pounding or weirdo melon-twisting ultimatums and power plays. It's supposed to be about fun, dammit. There are methods to keep momma happy and get your way, too, believe it or not.
First off, if you ignore the comfort of your passenger, you're going to pay and it will hurt. It will be a bone of constant contention that will leave you both insane and exhausted. Behaviorist Felice Goff suggests we consider all the variables, not the least of which is what kind of riding buddy do you have? Is your passenger the high-heel and mini-skirt type that digs the freaky feeling of some shake and rattle through a micro pillion, or is he or she more of the steel-toe hiker boots, big bubble butt stuffed into Kevlar-reinforced jeans, demands a Barcalounger-type of rear seat travel companion? Sissybar, or no sissybar? Intercom, or the tranquil Zen of riding without ceaseless chitchat? Pain delivered by a seat as hard as a church pew, or a plug-in back and butt massager?
Choosing the right bike, the right seat, the right foot support, the right back support, and the right damn passenger can mean the difference between lasting fun and happiness, or irreversible misery and terribleness. Felice advises us to think carefully about our partner and what his or her comfort level is, and put that consideration into your customizing or buying decisions. This isn't to say you actually need to compromise. "Couples tend to think compromise is what turns the wheels of a relationship, but that leaves something lacking; neither of you ever really get what you want. This can and often leads to resentment and conflict. Instead, negotiate. If you are modifying your motorcycle, maybe one can pick the seat, the other the footpegs or floorboards. It's important you both feel a part of the decisions that affect your riding experience."
A cushy passenger place is nice, but one long-legged beauty made this unexpected point: "There's no whining in motorcycling," said Stacy, who is new to biking and enjoys life from the pillion. "You can be as sexy as you want to be, dress how you like even if that means wearing almost nothing, which I like to do in summer. But be prepared for unforeseen unpleasantness," she added. "I wear a chrome, bullet-shaped pillbox necklace that I keep aspirin or whatever in. Take one before the scoot, one during, maybe a couple after. It can put the joy back into the rear ride. It doesn't take a lot of experience to know weather and temperatures can swing suddenly. That's why there are saddlebags and backpacks. You can squeeze a lot of warm clothes into a small space. Take what you may need, and take some personal responsibility. Even though you may be riding together, it's really only up to you to provide for your own comfort. Don't blame your partner for a rough ride or a bad day."
According to custom builder Kent Weeks of Houston-based Lucky Devil Metal Works, ergonomics are a critical part of any build, more so than many customers realize. "I make everything to be rideable and comfortable, and sometimes my customers don't know how much they like it. Some people have to be schooled and need an explanation of how things are going to feel over time," he said. "Comfortable bikes are safer and really more fun. You can get an $80,000 custom bike and it ends up being a bear to ride. Some bikers don't know how important that is. While your chick may endure the ride, by the end of the day she's going to be unhappy. The chances of her wanting to have sex with you are much higher if she gets off the bike not all sore and exhausted. Comfort will benefit you both. A lot of the time guys don't want a rear seat, and chicks don't want to ride with them to begin with. Other clients won't build anything without a rear seat. It's kind of up to what kind of fun you really want to have."
Then there is this from Rick: "I'm dating two different women-one likes to dress sexy and have guys ogle her while we're riding-tits busting out, G-string showing-but she's a 'queen' when we ride. She has to be comfortable on the seat and she wears anything that isn't comfortable when we arrive at our destination. The other one dresses like a biker and doesn't give a rat's ass if she's sitting on a bare fender or a nice seat. Hell, she'd sit on a big d^%&* if I glued one on for her."
Lina would politely disagree: "Choosing the passenger and the way to treat him/her might be the key to happiness. In my opinion, the way a rider views the bike versus the comfort of the passenger directly reflects the way the rider feels for either the bike or the passenger. For example, if the rider sees a certain seat as a sleek one, a seat that makes the bike look 'sexy and cool,' then he or she will wonder about the comfort of the same seat for his passenger? If the seat is sexy and cool but not comfortable, what does the rider chose to do? Aha! The moment of truth wrapped around a bike seat."
Not everyone measures their relationship by the size of their seat. However, Rita made another observation: "Small p-pads scare me. I always feel like I am going to fall off. Sissybars? Good and bad: false sense of security and harder to get on with a mini-skirt and no panties. Of course, it feels the best with the sun on my face, the wind in my hair, and a guy's hand moving up my thigh...ahhh, sounds great."
And then there is Lilly: "This is an easy one for me. I am a high-class, high-heeled, blonde curls kind of gal, which for the most part has a huge pull on gentle and not-so-gentle men. I would have to say you can get away with a lot more-meaning wearing a lot more risqué clothing, higher heels, and looking Hollywood glamorous-on a dresser than a crotch rocket. "For most crotch rockets, the passenger seats are set higher so if you're wearing a short skirt and high heels, climbing on to the rear seat is very tricky. It takes flexibility and artistic talent to not show your hoohaa. Then you've got to consider most of these rocket jocks are all about the speed, so all that safety gear doesn't really settle well with the makeup and curls. In fact, after less than five minutes, you'll have fuzzy, lopsided curls and runny makeup. I prefer to stick with the baggers and cruisers. The rear seat is lower, so you can get away with shorter dresses and skirts, curls can be loosely pinned back, and the wind will give them a more natural look. As for your makeup, when you're just wearing an open-face helmet and sunglasses, it's less likely to run so you don't end up looking like Courtney Love."
I don't think I can add anything to Lilly's comments, except maybe her conclusion: "Riding for me, either short or long haul, is uncomfortable, which leads to my hypothesis: the lack of padding in the rear, whether it's the bike's or my own, is faulty. But as they say, pain is beauty, and there is beauty in riding."